How a nation responds to a tragedy says much not only about the character of its people, but also the quality of its political leadership. The response of America’s leaders on both sides of the political aisle to the killing of George Floyd and the looting and rioting it has sparked has been disappointing at best, outrageous at worst.
For those appalled by Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests, mayhem and violence in 140 cities across the nation, consider another incendiary moment in American history.
Fifty-two years ago, just after the legendary civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot by a white man, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy got on the back of a flatbed truck in Indianapolis to speak to the largely African-American audience that had gathered to welcome him. Discarding his prepared speech and ignoring the authorities’ pleas not to speak, he told those assembled the shocking news that King had been killed. As members of the audience gasped, Kennedy called for calm, compassion and social justice, and spoke publicly for the first time about the assassination of his own brother, John F. Kennedy, five years earlier.
He understood black people’s outrage and pain, he said. “For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling,” Kennedy told them. “I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.”
Violence, he warned, would only further polarize the nation between black and white and undermine King’s life-long mission of fostering love, justice and unity.
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